By FILMCRITHULK
September 24, 2012 at 06:00 PM EDT

The 2012 San Diego Comic-Con wrapped up way back in July, but Film Critic Hulk — the gamma-irradiated film theorist who served as EW’s Special Comic-Con Correspondent — isn’t quite finished with the biggest event of the geek year. Read on below for Hulk’s examination of the work of graphic novelist Hope Larson, and check back here tomorrow for Hulk’s final piece of Comic-Con coverage: An in-depth look at Rian Johnson’s Looper.

WHEN HULK WAS PUTTING TOGETHER PLANS FOR COMIC-CON COVERAGE, HULK IMPLICITLY KNEW THAT HULK WAS GOING TO WRITE ABOUT COMICS.  OH, A MILLION IDEAS WENT THROUGH HULK’S HEAD. THE STATE OF DC’S REBOOT. THE RECENT TRACK OF MARVEL. THE DOMINANCE OF IMAGE. THE RE-EMERGENCE OF VALIANT. EVEN SOMETHING ON THE NOSE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF HULK COMICS. BUT IN THE END, NONE OF THEM CAPTURED WHAT HULK FINDS TO BE REMARKABLE ABOUT COMICS. AND SO HULK SOUGHT OUT TO FIND SOMETHING SMALLER THAT COULD PERHAPS SPEAK TO SOMETHING BIGGER. A MICRO AS MACRO EXPLORATION OF THE THINGS THAT MAKE THE MEDIUM UNIQUE. AND WITH THAT, IT SUDDENLY MADE SENSE TO SIMPLY WRITE ABOUT A COMIC BOOK AUTHOR WHOSE WORK EXEMPLIFIES THAT VERY NOTION.

AND LUCKILY, THERE IS HOPE LARSON.

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LARSON IS ONE OF THE BEST COMIC BOOK WRITERS/ARTISTS ON THE PLANET. THIS IS AN OPINION, BUT LIKE ALL THE OPINIONS THE ONE EXPRESSING THE SENTIMENT BELIEVES IT IS DESERVED. AND THIS OPINION IS FAR FROM A LONELY ONE, AS MANY OTHERS SHARE THE VERY SAME BELIEF. LARSON IS AN EISNER AWARD WINNER (IF YOU’RE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE AWARDS, THEY ARE KIND OF A BIG DEAL) AND SHE HAS FOUR HIGHLY-ACCLAIMED GRAPHIC NOVELS TO HER CREDIT. AND THIS FALL, SHE WILL BE RELEASING A NEW GRAPHIC NOVEL VERSION OF MADELEINE D’ENGLE’S A WRINKLE IN TIME, WHICH HULK HAS TO MUST ADMIT IS ONE OF HULK’S FAVORITE YOUNG ADULT BOOKS EVER (“YOUNG ADULT.” PSSSSH. A REDUCTIVE TERM IF THERE EVER WAS ONE). WHAT MAKES THE BOOK SO SPECIAL? AT ITS CORE IT IS SIMPLY A STORY ABOUT FAMILY AND THE DISTANCES WE WILL GO IN LIFE FOR THEM, BUT THEMATICALLY-SPEAKING IT IS REALLY ABOUT THE PURPOSE OF SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY, ART, AND EVEN LOVE. IT’S LOFTY STUFF INDEED, BUT IT ALL WORKS BECAUSE IT IS COMPLETELY GROUNDED IN THE INDELIBLE SPIRIT OF SELF-ACTUALIZATION… IT JUST HAPPENS TO BE SELF-ACTUALIZATION  IN A JOURNEY THROUGH THE COSMOS. IT’S TRULY A GREAT BOOK AND THE SUBJECT MATTER MAKES PERFECT SENSE FOR LARSON.

IT IS ALSO HER FIRST ADAPTATION, WHICH IS DIFFICULT CONSIDERING THE BOOK CONTAINS SOME SURPRISINGLY DENSE STORYTELLING. LOOKING BACK ON LARSON’S EARLIER WORK, WHICH WAS SO FULL OF LOOSE, ILLUSTRATIVE GLEE, IT MAY ACTUALLY SEEM COUNTER-INTUITIVE THAT SHE WOULD ENGAGE IN SOMETHING SO COMPACT AND DIALOGUE-DRIVEN. BUT REALLY THIS ADAPTATION IS NOTHING BUT THE NEXT LOGICAL STEP IN A LONG AND FRUITFUL JOURNEY THAT HOPE LARSON HAS BEEN ON FOR SOMETIME NOW.

A FEW BLOCKS NORTH OF THE CONVENTION CENTER, FAR FROM THE THRONGS OF COMIC-CON GOERS, SHE AND HULK GATHERED AT A CASUAL WINE BAR TO TALK ABOUT THAT JOURNEY; ONE THAT KEEPS GOING TO SURPRISING NEW PLACES, AND POSSIBLY FAR BEYOND THE REALM OF COMICS THEMSELVES.

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HULK FIRST ENCOUNTERED HOPE LARSON’S WORK AS MANY DID, WITH 2005’S SALAMANDER DREAM. THE BOOK HAD AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT. IT WAS FULL OF GORGEOUS, INORNATE ILLUSTRATION. SPARSE DIALOGUE. RESONANT IDEAS. THE NOVEL IS THE STORY OF A YOUNG GIRL NAMED HAILEY AND HER DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIP WITH MAGICAL CREATURE NAMED “SALAMANDER,” WHO SHE DISCOVERS IN THE WOODLANDS NEAR HER HOUSE. WHAT MAY PERHAPS SOUND LIKE A FAMILIAR TROPE TO SOME OF YOU IS ACTUALLY EXPLORED IN THE MOST ATYPICAL MANNER POSSIBLE. THEIR STORY SPANS YEARS. IT DELVES INTO THE BREAKS AND BOUNDARIES OF NATURE ITSELF AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO SCIENCE. IT IS A LOFTY, STARK, AND DEEPLY HONEST BOOK ABOUT OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE LAND AROUND US AND THE WAYS WE FALL IN AND OUT OF ADORATION WITH ITS SENSE OF WONDER. SO CLEAR IS THE BOOK TO ITS PURPOSE, THAT EVERY SINGLE TIME HULK CONVINCES SOMEONE TO READ IT THEY ALL COME BACK ECHOING THE SAME KINDS SUPERLATIVES. THE BOOK IS, QUITE SIMPLY, ONE OF THOSE OBVIOUSLY-PERFECT THINGS.

WHEN HULK EXPRESSES THIS SENTIMENT LARSON QUICKLY TOSSES BACK THE COMPLIMENT LIKE IT WAS A LIVE HAND-GRENADE AND THEN SETTLES INTO THE EXPLANATION THAT THE ENTIRE STORY WAS ROOTED IN A DEEP SENSE OF NOSTALGIA.  SHE TALKS ABOUT GROWING UP IN NORTH CAROLINA AND HER TANGIBLE FONDNESS FOR THE SUN, THE TREES, AND THE OVERWHELMING GREEN. WHILE THE ADOLESCENT PULL OF ADULTHOOD MADE HER LEAVE FOR ADVENTURES UP NORTH, IT WASN’T UNTIL SHE COULD TRULY LOOK BACK ON IT THAT SHE UNDERSTOOD WHAT NORTH CAROLINA ACTUALLY MEANT TO HER. THAT IT’S THE KIND OF PLACE THAT NATURALLY FEEL LIKE HOME FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE. THIS SORT OF NARRATIVE IS FAMILIAR STORY TO MOST OF US, BUT WHEN YOU READ SALAMANDER THERE IS SUCH A CLEAR ARTICULATION OF THE PAINS ABOUT ABOUT BEING SEPARATED FROM NATURE, THAT IT SO READILY WORKS WITH NORMAL PAINS OF GROWING UP. REALLY, THE RELATIONSHIP IS SYNONYMOUS TO THE PUSH-PULL OF OUR CHILD-LIKE INCLINATIONS. AND ALL THESE THEMES CRYSTALLIZE IN THE BOOK’S RESONANT FINAL LINE ABOUT THE KINDS OF WONDERFUL PLACES IN LIFE THAT “make it easier for us to believe in magic.”

AND AS THE CONVERSATION CONTINUES, LARSON GOES ON TO CLARIFY THAT NOSTALGIA IS SUCH A DRIVING FORCE BEHIND NOT ONLY THAT BOOK, BUT FOR ALL OF HER WORK.

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LARSON FOLLOWED WITH 2006’S GRAY HORSES. LIKE SALAMANDER, THE BOOK USED THE SAME MASSIVE EMPHASIS ON VISUAL METHODS OF STORYTELLING AND SPARSE USE OF LANGUAGE. IN FACT, THE STYLE ON DISPLAY IN BOTH BOOKS IS SO FULLY FORMED THAT IT IS EASY TO SAY THAT LARSON HAS AN OBVIOUS AND REMARKABLE TALENT FOR IT. ACTIONS, SOUNDS, AND BEHAVIORS TAKE DECIDEDLY VISUAL FORMS, PANELS SWEEP TOGETHER WITH CAREFUL-YET-GRACEFUL FLOW, AS THE STORIES MERELY UNFOLD THEMSELVES IN THE MOST DELICATE OF WAYS. THE EFFECT IS REMARKABLE. THERE ALWAYS SEEMS TO BE THIS TANGIBLE SENSE OF ENVIRONMENT AND MOOD IN LARSON’S WORK. AND PART OF WHAT MAKES IT WORK IN TERMS OF NARRATIVE SO WELL IS THAT THE ACTUAL STORY OF HORSES CONCERNS THE EVER-ROMANTIC UNIVERSE OF A FOREIGN EXCHANGE STUDENT.

NOEMIE IS A FRENCH STUDENT WHO HAS COME TO CHICAGO TO STUDY AND IN DOING SO SHE EXPERIENCES THE BARRIERS OF LANGUAGE, THE POWER OF CRUSHES, BEAUTIFUL DREAM-SCAPES, AND THE TIMELESSNESS OF PHOTOGRAPHY. WHILE IT CLARIFIES EMOTIONS THAT ARE SEEMINGLY UNIQUE TO A ULTRA-SPECIFIC EXPERIENCE, THE EMOTIONS ARE ACTUALLY UNIVERSAL TO ANY TRANSITIVE EXPERIENCE. LARSON AFFECTIONATELY REFERS TO HORSES AS HER “CHICAGO BOOK” (AND A BIT OF A LOVE-LETTER TO HER TIME THERE) BUT THE CHOICE OF EXPLORING IT THROUGH THE EYES OF AN EXCHANGE STUDENT ACTUALLY MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. OUTSIDERS ARE ALWAYS THE ONES WHO HAVE THE FRESHEST EYES. THE ONES WHO CAN SENSE WHATEVER IS TRULY UNCANNY ABOUT A PLACE. AND EVEN IF LARSON CAME AS AN AMERICAN, NOEMIE’S EXPERIENCE IS LARGELY INFORMED BY LARSON’S OWN TIME AS A STUDENT IN FRANCE. WITH THAT REVELATION, WE CAN CONNECT THE DOTS AND UNDERSTAND HOW SHE TELLS THE STORY. TIME PASSES BY AS WOULD OUR SENSE OF MEMORY. ALL THE CHAPTERS GOING BY AS LITTLE ROLLS OF FILM. ULTIMATELY, THE BOOK ITSELF ALMOST FEELS LIKE IT’S OWN SIGNPOST.

IT IS ALSO IN GRAY HORSES THAT LARSON ESTABLISHED A TONE AND TREATMENT THAT HULK CONSIDERS TO BE A RATHER IMPORTANT ONE… LOOK… IT IS NOT QUITE A STRETCH TO SAY THAT THE MEDIUM OF COMICS, WHEN LOOKED AT AS A WHOLE, HAVE PROBLEMS WITH THE EXPRESSION OF FEMALE CHARACTERS AND SEXUALITY. THE BIG BOYS IN THE SUPERHERO WORLD RARELY HAVE SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T READ AS EXPLOITATIVE OR OUTRIGHT AWFUL (THE NEW DC REBOOT IS A PARTICULAR OFFENDER IN THIS ARENA), BUT EVEN THE “INDIE COMICS” WORLD IS RIFE WITH THE SAME KIND OF PROBLEMS OF A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY. NOW, OF COURSE THERE ARE A VAST NUMBER OF BRILLIANT COMIC BOOK ARTISTS, MALE AND FEMALE ALIKE, WHO ARE DOING GREAT WORK THAT INCLUDES AN EXPLORATION OF GENDER THAT IS INTERESTING, TEXTURED, AND HUMANE, BUT TO HULK THIS WHOLE DYNAMIC CAN’T BE REDUCED TO SOME UGLY “WE HAVE OUR WAY / THEY HAVE THEIR WAY” SOLUTION. THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR THIS BEING “JUST HOW COMICS ARE” BECAUSE QUITE FRANKLY, IT’S NOT HOW PEOPLE ARE. IN FACT, THE ALTERNATIVE ONLY SEEMS THAT WAY TO MEN WHO ARE EMBRACING THEIR WORST POSSIBLE SELVES. SO REALLY, THIS ENTIRE VIEWPOINT OF HULK’S IS REALLY ABOUT FIGHTING FOR AN ARTICULATE EXPRESSION OF GENDER IN THE MEDIUM AS A WHOLE. AND IN THAT RESPECT, EVERY BOOK THAT HAS A BASIC RESPECT FOR GENDER IS A BOOK THAT MATTERS MORE THAN EVER. AND THAT’S WHY THE TONE OF LARSON’S WORK IS SO REFRESHING.

TO ILLUSTRATE WHAT HULK MEANS BY THIS, FIRST HULK MUST EXPRESS THAT WRITING FEMALE CHARACTERS IS NOT SOME OBLIGATORY DUTY THAT HAS TO BE ENGAGED IN BY ALL COMICS. HECK, SOME OF HULK’S FAVORITE COMICS STAY OUT OF THE CONVERSATION COMPLETELY. HULK IS SIMPLY TALKING ABOUT APPROACHING THE ISSUE WHEN PRESENTED WITH A BASIC NOTION OF RESPECT. AND AGAIN, THIS ISN’T ABOUT DUTY, BUT UNDERSTANDING. BECAUSE WHEN LARSON TALKS ABOUT THE ROLE OF FEMALE CHARACTERS AND THE DIALOGUE HER WORK HAS WITH YOUNG GIRLS,  IT IS NOT PART OF SOME OVERALL MISSION, OR EVEN SOMETHING THAT CAN BE PLACED WITHIN A POLITICAL RATIONALE. HER PORTRAYALS OF FEMININITY ARE SIMPLY THE MOST OBVIOUS WAY OF APPROACHING STORY. AS SHE PUTS IT “The most honest things that I can do.” THERE IS LITERALLY NO PRETENSE. SHE IS SIMPLY WRITING STORIES. AND AESTHETICALLY SPEAKING, THERE IS AN HONEST FUNCTIONALITY TO THE FEMININE ILLUSTRATIONS IN HER ART. FOR INSTANCE, IN ONE PANEL A GIRL MAY BE GETTING OUT OF BED IN HER UNDERWEAR, BUT IT’S BOTH DE-SEXUALIZED WHILE NOT GOING SO FAR AS TO BE STERILE. MEANING THE IMAGE MAY BE BEAUTIFUL WITHOUT EVER GOING SO FAR AS TO BE EVOCATIVE. AND FOR A BOOK LIKE HORSES, WHICH IS ABOUT YOUNG ADULTS FINDING ROMANCE, THE SIMPLICITY OF THAT TONE AND PORTRAYAL RINGS SO DAMN TRUE. THIS IS NOT THE HISTORY OF “AWKWARD GROPING: THE TEENAGE YEARS!” BUT REALLY THE EMOTIONS AND EXPRESSIONS BEHIND THOSE KINDS OF ACTIONS. THERE IS A REAL SENSE OF INNOCENCE TO HER WORK AND THE CHARACTER OF NOEMIE  ESTABLISHES THE LINE OF WHAT HULK WILL AFFECTIONATELY REFER TO AS THE “TRADITIONAL HOPE LARSON HEROINES.” CHARACTERS ALL GUIDED BY THAT KIND OF NOSTALGIC INNOCENCE, BUT FULL OF A SELF-EFFACING AND SELF-DOUBTING DISPOSITION.

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NO MATTER HOW MUCH ONE MAY WANT TO STICK TO AN AESTHETIC, ART ALWAYS HAS A WAY OF BEING PART OF A NATURAL EVOLUTION. AND IT IS SO OFTEN ONE WHERE WE ARE GUIDED BY INSTINCT.

IN 2008 LARSON RELEASED HER NEXT GRAPHIC NOVEL, CHIGGERS (FOR THOSE UNAWARE, IT’S A TERM FOR HARVEST MITES). THE BOOK WAS REALLY HER FIRST FORAY INTO WHAT WE WOULD CONSIDER TO BE A MORE TRADITIONAL NARRATIVE APPROACH TO STORYTELLING. SAID NARRATIVE FOCUSES ON ABBY, A YOUNG GIRL WHO RETURNS FOR ANOTHER SUMMER AT CAMP WITH THE EXPECTATION THAT THINGS WILL BE LIKE THEY ARE EVERY SUMMER. BUT SO MUCH HAS CHANGED: HER SLIGHTLY-OLDER BEST FRIEND ROSE NOW BEING A CABIN ASSISTANT AND THE ALL THE GIRLS ARE HEADING HEADLONG INTO THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN THEIR CHILD-LIKE INCLINATIONS AND THE LOOMING SPECTER OF TEENAGE-DOM. UGH… WE ALL KNOW THAT WORLD. DATING. THE LACK OF BODY CONFIDENCE. THE INCREASING NATURE OF CONFORMITY AND CLIQUE-DOM. FURTHER COMPLICATING MATTERS FOR ABBY IS THE ARRIVAL OF SHASTA, A UNIQUE GIRL WHO CLAIMS TO HAVE BEEN STRUCK BY LIGHTNING AND BE DATING A HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR. SHASTA CHALLENGES ALL OF ABBY’S IDEAS ABOUT WHO HER FRIENDS SHOULD ACTUALLY BE, BUT OFTEN THE VERY THING THAT MAKES SHASTA COMPELLING AND A GOOD FRIEND CAN SOMETIMES BE THE VERY THING THAT IRKS HER. THE INNOCENCE OF SOCIALIZATION IS SIMPLY TURNED ON END. HULK FEELS THAT EVERY BIT OF THIS BOOK CAPTURES THAT VERY SPECIFIC TIME WHEN WE FIRST START TO EMBRACE THE TROUBLES OF ADOLESCENCE. AND IT’S SO MUCH MORE THAN THE POLITICS OF WHO LIKES WHO, OR PETTY FEELINGS. IT’S ABOUT THE WAY WE COME TO POSTURE OURSELVES IN TRANSITIONAL ENVIRONMENTS AND CREATE NEW IDENTITIES. BUT THE BEST PART OF THE BOOK IS HOW LARSON RARELY TREATS THIS “NOSTALGIA STORY” AS A MERE GAME OF REMEMBER WHEN AND INSTEAD REFLECTS UPON THE INHERENT TRANSITIONAL NATURE OF OUR LIVES AT ANY STAGE. IN THAT SENSE IT IS UNIVERSAL.

IT IS IN ALL HONESTY, CHIGGERS IS HULK’S FAVORITE BOOK IN HER OEUVRE. WHEN HULK TELLS PEOPLE THIS IT USUALLY IS MET WITH CONFUSION. THE BOOK DOESN’T OUTRIGHT EMBRACE THE PURE-ILLUSTRATIVE NATURE OF HER FIRST TWO EFFORTS, NOR DOES IT EMBRACE THE NOVELISTIC INTENTION OF THE WORK THAT WAS STILL TO COME. INSTEAD, IT TOES THIS PERFECT LINE BETWEEN THE TWO. AND MUCH MORE THAN THAT, IT JUST ARTICULATES THIS THING ABOUT GROWING THAT IS SO ACHINGLY HUMAN. PUT IT THIS WAY: CHIGGERS IS GOOD THE SAME WAY FREAKS AND GEEKS IS GOOD. AND IF YOU’VE WATCHED THAT SHOW HULK’S COMMENT REALLY TELLS YOU EVERYTHING. WHEN HULK MAKES THIS COMMENT TO LARSON ABOUT HULK’S FAVORITISM SHE SEEMS BOTH TAKEN ABACK BY THE MAGNITUDE OF THE OPINION (HULKS AREN’T EXACTLY SUBTLE) AND TRYING TO HIDE THE FACT THAT SHE’S SOMEWHAT GIDDY. SHE OUTRIGHT ADMITS “There’s a special place in my heart for that one.” AND ADMITS THAT ONCE AGAIN NOSTALGIA WAS THE FUEL FOR THE BOOK, BUT SHE NEVER OUTRIGHT CONCEIVED IT AS BEING “FOR YOUNG GIRLS.” THAT WAS UNTIL SOMEONE TOLD HER THAT IS WHO IT WAS FOR. TO SIMPLY SAY THAT CHIGGERS IS “FOR YOUNG GIRLS” IS TO CONFUSE WHAT THE SUBJECT “IS” WITH WHO IT IS ACTUALLY “FOR.” AND IN CASE IT’S NOT OBVIOUS, HULK IS PRETTY MUCH THE OPPOSITE OF A YOUNG GIRL IN THE PHYSICAL SENSE, SO IT HAS TO BE TESTAMENT TO THE KINDS OF EXPERIENCES AND EMOTIONS THAT UNIVERSAL.

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WITH 2010’S MERCURY LARSON COMMITTED TO HER LONGEST AND MOST “NOVEL-LIKE” BOOK TO DATE. THE STORY IS TOLD ACROSS TWO DISTINCT TIMELINES, ONE IN 1859 AND ONE PRESENT DAY, BUT BOTH ARE SET IN THE TOWN OF FRENCH HILL, NOVA SCOTIA. THE STORY INVOLVES A PRESENT-DAY YOUNG GIRL NAMED TARA LIVING AWAY FROM HER MOTHER IN THE AFTERMATH OF A FIRE. THE OTHER TIMELINE INVOLVES YOUNG COLONIAL GIRL NAMED JOSEY WHO MAKES DUE ON HER FARM UNTIL SHE BECOMES ENCHANTED WITH A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER WHO VISITS. THE TWO STORIES AND GROW TO SHOW THE SEAMS OF COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE, BUT IN MANY WAYS IT WORKS AS NOSTALGIA MADE LITERAL. LARSON ADMITS THAT SHE DIDN’T FEEL COMPELLED TO WRITE ABOUT NOVA SCOTIA UNTIL SOON AFTER HAVING RETURNED TO HER HOME STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA. IT IS AS THIS POINT THAT LARSON REVEALS THE PERFECT FACT THAT “I’ve never made a book about a place while I was still living there.” AT WHICH POINT, THE PATTERN BECOMES ACHINGLY CLEAR IN THAT HER NOVELS HAVE FOLLOWED HER AS SHE MOVED ABOUT: NORTH CAROLINA, CHICAGO, CANADA, BACK TO HOME. SO MANY OF THESE STORIES TOLD AS A WAY FOR HER TO CONTEXTUALIZE HER JOURNEY AND LOOK BACK, WHILE SO MANY CHARACTERS ARE TRAPPED IN THE VERY DILEMMA.

LET’S BE CLEAR ABOUT SOMETHING THOUGH: NOSTALGIA IS A TRICKY CONCEPT TO TALK ABOUT IT BECAUSE DEPENDING ON WHO YOU TALK TO IT CAN EITHER BE A WONDROUS OR INSIDIOUS THING. AND RIGHT NOW OUR CULTURE IS SO LITTERED WITH “NOSTALGIA PROPERTIES” THAT IT’S BECOMING SUFFOCATING. AND IN MANY WAYS COMIC-CON REPRESENTS THAT NOSTALGIC VALUE. WHETHER IT’S PEOPLE PHYSICALLY LOOKING TO OBTAIN THOSE TOYS OR COMICS THEY HAD AS KIDS OR PEOPLE ARE EAGERLY AWAITING THE MOVIE VERSIONS OF PROPERTIES THEY ALWAYS LONGED TO SEE. BUT IT’S NOT JUST THAT THERE IS SO MUCH MUCH NOSTALGIA COMMERCE/STORYTELLING TODAY, BUT THE FACT THAT IT SEEMS TO BE PURELY ABOUT SATISFYING THE NOSTALGIC ITCH IN THE WORST POSSIBLE WAY. OFTEN TIMES IT’S TRYING TO BUILD A WORLD WHERE THAT PAST STILL EXISTS OR IT TRIES TO UPDATE THOSE PROPERTIES TO OUR CURRENT ADULT SENSIBILITIES IN THE MOST INDULGENT KINDS OF WAYS. CHILD-LIKE, SIMPLE VIEWPOINT WITH ADULT TEXTURES. IT’S DOWNRIGHT IRRESPONSIBLE ARTISTICALLY SPEAKING. AND AT IT’S WORST, NOSTALGIA IS ABOUT ABHORRING WHO YOU ARE RIGHT NOW. BUT THE REAL REASON ALL OF THIS APPROACH TO NOSTALGIA ART DOES NOT WORK IS BECAUSE SO FEW PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THAT THE ARTISTIC PURPOSE OF NOSTALGIA IS ACTUALLY ABOUT COMING TO CATHARSIS WITH TRANSITION. IT’S ABOUT UNDERSTANDING WHY THOSE MOMENTS BOTH WERE GREAT AND WHY THEY NEED TO PASS. IT’S ABOUT UNDERSTANDING WHY WE’RE LIVING IN THE PLACE WE ARE NOW. AND THAT’S THE REASON ALL OF LARSON’S WORK ACTUALLY RESONATES WITH US. AS MUCH AS IT MAY LOOK TO THE PAST AND EMBRACE THE THINGS THAT HAVE FILLED OUR SOULS, IT SO CLEARLY UNDERSTANDS THAT IT IS THE LETTING THEM GO THAT MAKES THEM SPECIAL. AND BY TAKING THE PAST AND ARTICULATING IT AS “THE NOW” IT GIVES US THEMATIC AMMO WE NEED TO ACTUALLY EMBRACE OUR OWN NOW. LARSON’S APPROACH IS EVERYTHING NOSTALGIA SHOULD BE.

BUT WHAT IS TRULY DELIGHTFUL ABOUT THIS IS THAT MERCURY ALSO REPRESENTS THE FURTHEST POINT IN HER DEVELOPMENT TOWARD TRADITIONAL NARRATIVE STORYTELLING. THE BOOK IS TWICE AS LONG AS ANY OF THE PRECEDING EFFORTS, FILLED WITH HISTORICAL RESEARCH, INCORPORATES APPROPRIATED HISTORICAL DIALOGUE, RELIES ON CAREFUL BUILDS AND PLOTTING THAT ULTIMATELY HAS TO COMBINE TWO TIMELINES TOGETHER IN A CATHARTIC WAY. IT EVEN MAKES LESS USE OF OBSERVATION AND INSTEAD EMBRACES A FEW MOMENTS OF BOMBAST, AND MAKES OUTRIGHT USE OF TRADITIONAL DRAMA. SO DESPITE THE CLEAR STYLISTIC SIMILARITIES, WHEN IT COMES TO NARRATIVE IT IS  THE FURTHEST THING ONE MIGHT IMAGINE FROM SOMEONE WHO WROTE SALAMANDER DREAM. WHEN ASKED ABOUT THIS EVOLUTION, LARSON REVEALS THAT IT WASN’T LIKE SHE NECESSARILY “DISCOVERED” STORYTELLING ALONG THE WAY OR ANYTHING. IN FACT, SHE REVEALS THAT WRITING AND ILLUSTRATION WERE ACTUALLY THE TWO CENTRAL FOCUSES OF HER CHILDHOOD. INSTEAD SHE SAYS THAT IN GOING THROUGH HER COLLEGIATE DAYS SHE EMERGED THINKING THAT “As strange as it sounds, I didn’t necessarily feel that I had the right to tell stories.” TRYING TO POP ANALYZE WHERE THIS SENTIMENT CAME FROM WOULDN’T REALLY BE ALL THAT FRUITFUL. IT IS SIMPLY MUCH MORE PRODUCTIVE TO IDENTIFY THE WAY SHE GOT AWAY FROM THAT BELIEF; THE WAY HER WORK HAS EVOLVED WITH MORE AND MORE CONFIDENCE TO EMBRACE NARRATIVE STORYTELLING, WHICH IS AN ELEMENT THAT HAD ALWAYS BEEN A PART OF HER.

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WHICH BRINGS US TO THE PRESENT MOMENT AT COMIC-CON AND THE SOON TO BE RELEASED A WRINKLE IN TIME.

LARSON CAME TO COMIC-CON THIS YEAR WITH AUGMENTED GAME PLAN THAT INCLUDED STAYING FOR MANY DAYS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF DOWNTIME. SHE AND HULK BOTH SIT IN THE WINE CAFE AND SEEM TO BE CATCHING OUR BREATHS, EACH LAMENTING THE HURRIED, CROWDED, AND RUSHED NATURE OF THE CON. WHILE LARSON IS A VETERAN, IT HAS BEEN HULK’S FIRST TIME HERE AND THERE IS TRULY A SPECIAL KIND OF INTENSITY TO IT ALL. AND BEFORE WE MET, LARSON HAD JUST FINISHED UP A PANEL APPROPRIATELY CALLED “A WRINKLE IN TIME” BUT IT WAS ACTUALLY A HARD-CORE SCI-FI PANEL MEANT TO EXPLORE THE GREATER CONCEPTS OF THE UNIVERSE AND IT INVOLVED SOME OF GENRE’S HEAVY HITTERS. THE PANEL ACTUALLY GAINED SOME NOTORIETY WHEN SCI-FI LEGENDS ORSON SCOTT CARD AND DAVID BRIN BASICALLY GOT INTO IT ON STAGE AFTER THEIR LONG-TIME FEUD BUBBLED OVER INTO PUBLIC ANGER… LARSON SAID SHE MOSTLY FELT AWKWARD BECAUSE SHE WAS SEATED RIGHT IN BETWEEN THEM. LARSON ALSO ADMITTED THAT SHE FELT SLIGHTLY OUT OF PLACE IN THE PANEL, BUT IT IS THIS HULK’S OPINION THAT SUCH SENTIMENT IS UNDESERVED, PERHAPS JUST AN UNFORTUNATE CONSEQUENCE TO THE PATRIARCHAL DOMINANCE OF “HARD SCI-FI.” FOR ONE, LARSON’S WORK HAS ALWAYS HAD ONE FOOT IN THE FANTASTICAL NATURE OF THE UNIVERSE AND THIS HARD-SCI-FI ADORING HULK WILL READILY ESPOUSE THE NOTION THAT LARSON’S WORK OFTEN HAS MUCH MORE TO SAY ON PHILOSOPHICAL AND HUMAN LEVEL THAN MANY OF THE HYPER-SPECIFIC GIANTS OF THE INDUSTRY. AND SO TO HULK, THAT SENTIMENT IS JUST EGREGIOUS AS IF SOMEONE SAID HER WORK WAS OUT OF PLACE IN “COMICS AT LARGE.” STILL, BECAUSE THE SENTIMENT OF WHAT “SCI-FI” IS SUPPOSED BE IS SO WIDELY HELD BY THE FANS OF THE GENRE WE ENTER ONE OF THOSE OUROBOR-ATICAL COMPLEXES WHERE THERE IS NO WINNING. AND THUS HULK 100% UNDERSTANDS THE TREPIDATION.

SPEAKING OF TREPIDATION, AT THAT POINT LARSON MENTIONS SHE HAS ALREADY FINISHED MOST OF HER SIGNINGS FOR THE WEEK AND SEEMS TO BE RELIEVED BY THIS. WHAT  IS IMPORTANT TO REALIZE IS THIS SENTIMENT IS NOT REFLECTIVE OF A LACK OF CARE OR DISAFFECTED ATTITUDE TOWARD FANS IN THE SLIGHTEST. IN FACT, IT IS THE EXACT OPPOSITE. THE THING THAT HAS TO BE UNDERSTOOD IS THAT LARSON IS SO DEMURE, SO SLIGHT, SO SOFT-SPOKEN, AND SO TOUCHED BY THE SLIGHTEST COMPLIMENT THAT MEETING ADORING FANS HAS THE EXACT OPPOSITE AFFECT THAT IT WOULD ON SOMEONE WITH EVEN A HINT OF AN EGO. TRULY, HER ANXIETY ABOUT THE INTERACTIONS ARE ACTUALLY BORN FROM THE GREATEST SENSE EMPATHY… THESE ARE SIMPLY THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF LARSON’S FAN INTERACTION EXPERIENCE IS THE ADMITTANCE THAT THERE ARE SOME PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD WHO IDENTIFY HER BASED ON THE FACT THAT SHE HAPPENS TO BE MARRIED TO BRYAN LEE O’MALLEY, WRITER AND CREATOR OF SCOTT PILGRIM. LIKE SO MANY ASSOCIATIONS THIS ONE STRIKES HULK AS BEING CRIMINALLY REDUCTIVE. NOT BECAUSE O’MALLEY’S WORK IS SOMEHOW LACKING (COME ON, WE ALL KNOW IT’S EXCEPTIONAL), IT’S JUST THERE IS THIS WHOLLY OBLIGATORY NATURE TO THE WAY THAT PEOPLE ALWAYS LUMP INFLUENTIAL CREATIVE COUPLES TOGETHER IN A SINGULAR FASHION. AND IT’S NOT BECAUSE THAT THE COUPLING ITSELF IS SOMEHOW BAD (IF ANYTHING, WHAT THEY REPRESENT AS A UNIT IS PRETTY AWESOME). IT’S JUST THAT THE OVERWHELMING NEED, NAY REQUIREMENT FOR PEOPLE TO MENTION ONE WHEN IT COMES TO THE OTHER IS SOMETHING JUST FEELS UTTERLY WRONG-HEADED. SO TROUBLESOME IS THE IDEA THAT HULK CONSIDERED OMITTING THIS PARAGRAPH ALTOGETHER BEFORE REALIZING THAT THIS SORT OF LONG-WINDED/TANGENTIAL/COMPLETIONIST EXPLANATION IS WHOLLY IN LINE WITH WHAT HULK DOES. BEYOND THIS DEBATE. THERE IS ONE INESCAPABLE REALITY WHOSE OBVIOUSNESS IS ALMOST INSULTING, BUT IS OF COURSE THE ONLY REALITY THAT ACTUALLY MATTERS: WHAT MAKES LARSON AND HER WORK GREAT ARE WHOLLY THEIR OWN.

AND THUS, THE REASON PEOPLE SHOULD BE EXCITED ABOUT HER ADAPTATION OF A WRINKLE IN TIME IS BECAUSE IT IS GREAT.

HULK READ IT LAST WEEK AND IT MARKS THE ABSOLUTE COMPLETE TRANSITION TO THE NOVELISTIC APPROACH THAT LARSON STARTED IN MERCURY. THE BOOK IS SO DENSE, SO DIALOGUE-DRIVEN, AND SO CAREFULLY ARTICULATED THAT IT IS TRULY UNLIKE ANY OF HER WORK THAT HAS COME BEFORE. ADMITTEDLY, THIS IS ALL PART OF THE POLITICS OF STRICT ADAPTATION, BUT IT ALL HAS THE REMARKABLE EFFECT OF THE WAY THE BOOK OPENS UP IN THE KEY VISUAL-DRIVEN SECTIONS. MEANING ONE ZIPS THROUGH THE DIALOGUE OF THE STORY ONLY TO SUDDENLY FIND THEMSELVES DROPPED INTO EXPANSIVE, FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS. AND IN DOING SO IT GENUINELY CREATES A SENSE OF AWE. HULK THINKS THE EFFECT OF THE TWO MODES IS BRILLIANT. THE FOLLOWING MAY SOUND OBVIOUS, BUT SINCE THE STORY IS ACTUALLY SEQUENCED, THE TRANSITIONS ARE THUS EXPERIENCED. AND THUS IT HAS THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE OF THE EFFECT OF SOMETHING LIKE STARDUST WHERE THE GORGEOUS VISUALS SORT OF “HANG AROUND THE TEXT.” THAT’S MERELY VISUAL COMPANIONSHIP IF THAT MAKES SENSE. AND THE WAY THIS WORKS MAKES READING A WRINKLE IN TIME SOMEWHAT UNIQUE. HULK FEELS LIKE HULK STILL HASN’T CLARIFIED THIS RIGHT…. HMMMM… HOW TO PUT IT?… IMAGINE SITTING IN A MOVIE THEATER AND YOU ARE WATCHING A SMALL, DIALOGUE-DRIVEN MOVIE. AND THEN SUDDENLY YOU ARE BEHOLDING IMAX-SCALE VISUALS SHOWING THE CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE. THAT’S THE TEXTURAL EXPERIENCE OF READING THIS BOOK. WHILE CHIGGERS FEELS LIKE A TONAL HYBRID OF TWO STYLES, A WRINKLE IN TIME FEELS MORE LIKE JUMPING BETWEEN THE FORMS WHEN APPROPRIATE. IT’S THE DENSITY OF THE NOVELISTIC MERCURY INTERRUPTED BY SUDDEN BITS OF LYRICAL ILLUSTRATION LIKE SALAMANDER DREAM. THE POINT OF ALL THIS COMMENTARY? PEOPLE ARE RIGHT TO BE EXCITED, ESPECIALLY FANS OF THE ORIGINAL BOOK. AND THE GRAPHIC NOVEL ITSELF IS THE NOT JUST THE ENDGAME FOR THE PROPERTY, BUT A KEY PIECE OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE UPCOMING FILM ADAPTATION.

BUT WITH ALL THE EXCITEMENT OF RELEASE THERE IS ANOTHER COMPONENT OF THE MAKING OF A WRINKLE IN TIME THAT HAS JUST AS MUCH IMPACT ON HER LIFE. LARSON SPENT THE ENTIRETY OF 2 YEARS WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING THE BOOK. AND WHILE THE EVERY BIT OF THAT EPIC UNDERTAKING SHOWS ON THE PAGE, SHE READILY ADMITS THAT THERE HAS ALSO BEEN A SENSE OF REAL IMPACT ON HER LIFE. FOR THOSE WHO NEVER REALLY STOPPED TO THINK ABOUT THE LOGISTICS OF WRITING COMICS, THE PROCESS IS QUITE LITERALLY LIKE ANIMATING AN ENTIRE MOVIE BY YOURSELF. FORGET ABOUT THE RIGOROUS PLANNING AND CAREFUL CONSIDERATION, THE ACTUAL TIME REQUIRED FOR ACTUAL EXECUTION IS JAW-DROPPING. IT IS NOT ONLY A DAUNTING, FRUSTRATING ENDEAVOR, BUT ADMITTEDLY A FAIRLY A LONELY ENTERPRISE. ONE SITS THERE DAY IN. DAY OUT. WRESTLING WITH THE TINY DETAILS. IT EFFECTS YOUR MOOD.  IT EFFECTS YOUR HEAD-SPACE. IT EFFECTS YOU. AND LARSON ADMITS THAT HER EXPERIENCE WITH WRINKLE IN TIME HELPED HER REALIZE THAT FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HER LIFE THERE WAS A PRESSING NEED TO EXPLORE OTHER CREATIVE ENDEAVORS.

AND SO. SHE WENT EXPLORING…

***

HOPE LARSON IS CURRENTLY KNEE-DEEP INTO MAKING HER FIRST SHORT FILM.

AND SHE IS VISIBLY EXCITED ABOUT IT. PRIOR TO OUR MEETING AT COMIC-CON, SHE AND HULK HAD A SHORT-TALK THAT TURNED INTO A LONG-TALK AND WE NEVER EVEN GOT TO THE SUBJECT OF HER GRAPHIC NOVELS. IT WAS ALL ABOUT HER TRANSITION TO THE WORLD OF FILMMAKING. SHE TALKS ABOUT THE MEDIUM WITH REVERENCE AND EXCITEMENT. SO OFTEN, THE KINDS OF PEOPLE YOU DISCUSS FILMMAKING WITH IN THIS CITY ARE THE SAME GROUP OF GUYS WHO KNEW THEY WOULD BE DIRECTORS SINCE THEY WERE 5. PASSIONATE FOR SURE, BUT THERE’S SOMETHING SO OBLIGATORY ABOUT THE WAY THEY TALK, AS IF FILMMAKING WAS SOMETHING OWED TO THEM. AND LISTENING TO LARSON IS ONE OF THE MORE REFRESHING THING ON THE PLANET. SHE TALKS ACUTELY ABOUT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE MEDIUMS. SHE’S WORKING ON A PERIOD PIECE. PLUS SHE FINDS IT WONDERFUL THAT SHE’S DOING HER FIRST BIT OF WORK THAT’S “about the city I’m actually living in.” AND GIVEN THE NATURE OF THIS JOURNEY SHE’S BEEN ON THERE IS NOTHING THAT COULD BE MORE FITTING IN HULK’S MIND. LIKE THE PROCESS OF FILMMAKING ITSELF, SHE IS MOVING INTO THE IMMEDIATE. INTO THE PRESENT. INTO THE MOST NATURAL AND WELCOME CHANGE. IT PROMPTS SHE AND HULK TO TALK ABOUT LOS ANGELES AND THE DELIGHTS OF WORSHIPING THE SUN. HER WINTERS IN CHICAGO AND CANADA AND HULK’S WINTERS IN BOSTON HAVE TAKEN THEIR TOLL. SHE RELISHES IN THE THE BRIGHTNESS HERE. DESPITE ALL THE FAMOUS EXPRESSIONS OF THE BLINDING SUNLIGHT AND HIDDEN SEED UNDERBELLY, THERE IS STILL AN INESCAPABLE ALLURE TO THIS CITY FOR THOSE WITH THEIR FEET ON THE GROUND.

LARSON IS CAREFUL TO EXPLAIN THAT THIS TRANSITION IS “not about getting out of comics in the slightest.” SHE SAYS THE MEDIUM AND ILLUSTRATION ARE SO CLOSE TO HER FUNDAMENTAL IDENTITY THAT SHE COULDN’T IMAGINE IT NOT BEING A PART OF HER LIFE. THIS IS SIMPLY ABOUT EMBRACING A CONCURRENT MEDIUM. SHE AND HULK SPEND NEARLY HALF AN HOUR TALKING ABOUT THE OVERLAP AND UNDERSTANDING OF HOW VISUAL NARRATIVES ACTUALLY WORK (AT ONE POINT HULK STARTS PRETENTIOUSLY STARTS QUOTING TARKOVSKY’S “SCULPTING IN TIME” AND LARSON DOESN’T MISS A BEAT). BUT THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO MEDIUMS THAT ACTUALLY MATTERS IS SIMPLY THE NATURE OF THE PROCESS. THE SOLIPSISM OF DRAWING COMICS HAS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT IMPACT ON HER LIFE AND WELL-BEING THAN THE WONDERFUL SENSE OF COMMUNITY THAT IS BUILT THROUGH FILMMAKING.

THE ENTIRE SUBJECT ACTUALLY STARTS AT TANGENT. NOT SO MUCH ABOUT LARSON’S WORK, BUT AN OBSERVATION OF CULTURE AT LARGE. THE LAST 70 YEARS OR SO HAVE INVOLVED A LARGE SCALE MARCH TOWARD SPECIALIZATION. MEANING A PERSON EITHER DID THIS OR THEY DID THAT AND IT WAS ALL BUILT ON A SPECIFIC TRACK. BUT WITH THE EMERGENCE OF THE INTERNET AND THE SINGULARITY OF HOW NEARLY EVERYTHING ARTISTIC OR EXPERIENTIAL THESE DAYS IS RUNNING THROUGH SOME SORT OF DIGITAL INTERFACE (OR AS HULK CALLS IT “THE ALL-SEEING DIGITAL EYE”) IT SEEMS THAT WE NOW HAVE A UNIQUE CAPACITY FOR LATERAL ARTISTIC MOVEMENT WITHIN MEDIUMS. THE DIGITAL EYE EVEN MAKES THE OVERLAP BETWEEN TECH-HEADS AND ARTISANS ALL THE MORE BLURRED. SPECIALIZATION IS DYING AND IT’S ALL THE BETTER IN HULK’S MIND. AFTER ALL, SPECIALIZATION IS THE KIND OF THING LEADS TO THE LUDICROUS NOTION THAT A YOUNG, FEMALE COMIC BOOK ARTIST MIGHT NOT “have the right to tell stories.” AND BEYOND SUCH GENERALITIES, THE TRUTH IS THAT THE EXPLORATION OF FILMMAKING FEELS VERY APPROPRIATE FOR ANYONE THE WORLD OF COMICS. GIVEN THAT THE MEDIUM AT LARGE SEEM TO BE THE WELL-SPRING OF INSPIRATION FOR MOVIES THESE DAYS, IT ACTUALLY MAKE ALL THE SENSE OF THE WORLD.

AS LARSON AND HULK WALK BACK FROM THE NAMELESS WINE BAR, HULK OBSERVES A LITANY OF PEOPLE IN COSTUMES GOING ABOUT THEIR WAY. AND IN THAT LANDSCAPE OF EVERYTHING BECOMES RADICALLY CLEAR AND CONFUSING AT THE SAME TIME. THERE’S LARSON, A RENOWNED COMIC ARTIST MAKING A FORAY INTO FILMMAKING, WHO IS WALKING DOWN THE STREET WITH A REAL-LIFE COMIC BOOK CHARACTER WHO WRITES ABOUT MOVIES FOR A LIVING, WHILST BEING AMONG THRONGS OF FANS DRESSED AS FAVORITE COMIC BOOK CHARACTERS WHO HAVE MADE NOW EARNED THEIR GREATEST POPULARITY THROUGH MOVIES. THE REFLEXIVISM IS EVERYWHERE, BUT THESE ARE THE TIMES WE LIVE I. DOWN IS UP. UP IS DOWN. BUT IT IS PRECISELY THIS KIND OF BLURRED ENVIRONMENT THAT MAKES ALL THE IMPORTANT THINGS ALL THE MORE CLEAR: THE MCLUHAN-ESQUE NOTION OF THE MEDIUM BEING THE MESSAGE ARE BECOMING LOST. AS THE SYSTEM CRACKS AROUND US, IT IS ARTISTIC INTENTION, THE PHILOSOPHY OF THEME, AND THE GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT THAT SEEMS TO SHINE THROUGH.

IT IS IN THOSE CAPACITIES THAT HOPE LARSON AND THE HUNDREDS OF GREAT ARTISTS LIKE HER MANAGE TO STAND OUT MORE THAN EVER. LARSON’S JOURNEY HAS BROUGHT HER TO THIS UNIQUE CROSSROADS AND IT IS SOMETHING THAT IS BOTH COMPLETELY NEW AND THE EXACT PLACE SHE AS ALWAYS BEEN. LIKE THE THEME HER WORK SO CLEARLY EXPLORES, IT IS PLACE OF TRANSITIONAL DILEMMAS AND UNCANNY AWARENESS.

AND LUCKILY FOR US, THE JOURNEY GOES EVER ONWARD.

FOLLOW @FILMCRITHULK

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